BOSTON — The Montreal Canadiens are having trouble finding the net in their first-round playoff series against the Boston Bruins, and no one is taking it harder than top-line centre Tomas Plekanec.
“The last two games, I played like a little girl out there,” Plekanec said Monday. “I definitely have to be hungrier, harder around the net and respond to the game a little better. Right now, obviously the confidence is not right where it should be for me. But one good shift can turn it around.”
Canadiens coach Guy Carbonneau is hoping that shift comes in Game 4 on Tuesday night, or else the series may be heading back to Montreal tied at two games apiece.
Besides Plekanec, none of Montreal’s big guns are clicking in the playoffs, largely because the Bruins have found a way to neutralize the Canadiens’ top-rated power play.
Grinders Tom Kostopoulos and Bryan Smolinski lead the team in scoring with three points each over three games. Plekanec and Alex Kovalev have two points apiece, Andrei Kostitsyn has one point and Christopher Higgins has been held off the scoresheet.
“Some of the players need to realize that we’re in the playoffs,” Carbonneau said. “In the regular season, most of the time you have more room, plays are a little easier, you have more time to make plays. At playoff time, it’s a little different. You have to leave a little bit of the skill and take a little more grit. (Plekanec) is not the only one. As a team we need a little more of that.”
Montreal’s vaunted power play is a woeful 1-for-17 in the series, which is a testament to the work of Bruins coach Claude Julien and his staff making the necessary changes to a team that finished the regular season with the third-worst penalty killing numbers in the league.
Carbonneau said there may be changes made both in terms of the players he sends out on the power play and also the way they attack the Bruins’ penalty kill. Montreal defenceman Mark Streit doesn’t think drastic measures are needed at this point.
“They aren’t playing that aggressive, they’re taking seam passes away and they’re taking our shooting lanes away as well,” he said. “We need to make some adjustments, but not change too much. We had a really good power play all season, it’s all about puck movement, puck recovery and getting pucks to the net.”
The Canadiens certainly miss the presence of captain Saku Koivu, who normally centres the second unit but is out with a broken foot, and who has always been at his best in the playoffs.
“What we miss with Saku is his experience,” Carbonneau said. “His skill is always there, but in tough situations where you have a chance to close out a team by going on the power play, Saku’s got the presence of mind sometimes to make plays that other players won’t make.”
Koivu was walking around at the TD Banknorth Garden on Sunday night with a plastic boot on his broken left foot and Carbonneau said he will definitely not suit up for Game 4. Koivu will undergo another set of X-rays on Wednesday, and if the fracture has healed sufficiently his situation will be re-assessed at that time..
Plekanec wasn’t buying the excuse that Koivu’s absence has made it easier for the Bruins to focus on shutting down his line.
“We definitely miss Saku, but I don’t think that changes anything for myself or my line,” he said. “We were the best line all year against them, we scored a lot of goals in those eight games in the regular season. We had to expect they would go after us. We didn’t respond yet, but we will.”
Changes to Montreal’s lineup could be coming for the first time in the series.
Injured defenceman Francis Bouillon skated on his injured right ankle Monday and Carbonneau said that if he feels all right after skating again Tuesday morning, he may play in Game 4.
Carbonneau said hulking defenceman Ryan O’Byrne may also be brought in to give the Canadiens another physical weapon. The two teams combined for 71 hits in Game 3 on Sunday.
Carbonneau said he will also consider moving Streit back up to forward.
Neither the Bruins nor the Canadiens held a formal practice on Monday, with only the scratched players on either club taking the ice.
Boston sniper Patrice Bergeron skated again as he attempts to return from the Grade 3 concussion he suffered Oct. 27. The Bruins say it remains unclear whether he will play in the series.